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Rule Book Stew: Hockey Sense, Common Sense and Uniformity

January 9, 2019, 10:36 AM ET [7 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

I had a great time last night at the Harvard vs. Boston University game, meeting with fans before the game and during the first intermission. Shared some old stories and laughs, renewed acquaintances and met some really nice people for the first time, and signed a few dozen copies of "Ya Wanna Go?". Pretty good hockey game, too, which ended in a 2-2 tie after Harvard's Lewis Zerter-Gossage and BU's Joel Farabee traded off third-period goals.

When I checked my email and social media after the game last night, I received several questions about a ruling by the officials late in the nationally televised game between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. On the play, Washington forward Tom Wilson shrugged off a hook from Philadelphia defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere inside the Flyers' blueline -- a delayed penalty was called -- and then scored an empty-net goal to apparently give the Caps a 5-1 lead.

Philadelphia challenged the goal, claiming Wilson was offside. Upon video review, it was determined that Wilson did not have control of the puck as he preceded it over the blueline. As such, the challenge was upheld and the goal was taken off the scoreboard.

OK, so what becomes of the Gostisbehere hook after the offside entry? At the time the NHL instituted the coach's challenge for offside, the league made an addendum to the Rule Book to instruct officials on what to do with penalties that occur after the offside: the penalty/penalties must be served by the offending team. Gostisbehere was sent to the penalty box.

Is this a counter-intuitive rule? Yes. It doesn't logically follow that a defensive zone penalty that would not have happened if an offside had been initially whistled would be enforced when a would-be goal is overturned for the offside that was initially missed upon entry into the zone.

Is it a "bad" rule? Not necessarily. The problem is that it is a one-size-fits-all rule. In other words, let's say that, instead of a routine hook/hold/trip inside the blueline, a defending team player delivered a two-hander of a slash, a cross-check, a two-minute high-stick, an elbow, a knee, etc. Under the way the NHL wrote the rule, the instruction to the official is one and the same.

Could the rule be clarified? Perhaps, but then it starts to become more convoluted as to which types of penalties are washed out by the offside ruling in video and which are still retained. It would have to be clearly specified that "restraining fouls" (hooking or holding, for instance) are to be washed out and all other penalty types must be enforced.

Cases such as these don't pop up too often. However, they speak to three much bigger concerns that I have:

1) Before we adopt new rules or alter an existing rule, we should not only ask "Why should we adopt/change this rule?" but also ask "Why should we NOT do it?" and weigh all the factors. Any time a rule is added or altered, there are cans of worms opened and potential unintended consequences. The real issue here is that the coach's challenge system was not completely thought through at the time it was implemented, and is still being tinkered with to address the ancillary issues it creates (and all of the permutations of those sub-issues).

2) We have to apply what I call the "McCauley Test" when it comes to the Rule Book and enforcement. When I was a young referee, the late John McCauley gave me great advice on how to walk the line on borderline calls. He would challenge me by asking "Why does this rule exist? What it is purpose?" By keeping the SPIRIT of the rule in mind, and applying common sense as on-ice officials, we can better work through the clunkiness or ambiguities that exist in how it is written.

Ah, but what about rules that were created without applying the McCauley Test in the first place? That's how we end up either with, at one of the spectrum, iron-clad instructions that require illogical ruling or, at the other end, the tangled mess of permutations and situational instructions (ala the web of goaltender interference-related scenarios) that are guaranteed to lead to inconsistency and confusion.

3) We need much greater uniformity in our Rule Books -- NHL, AHL, CHL, NCAA, IIHF, etc. -- so that the same standards are applied in all levels of our game. I think this is crucial for making our game better, as well as for the coaching of our officials.

I'll give you a recent example: the discrepancy between NHL and IIHF crease rules that were brought to light in the first period of the World Junior Championship gold medal game between Team USA and Finland. The IIHF rule is worded differently and there WAS justification under the international rules for disallowing a Team USA goal even though the puck preceded the attacker into the blue paint and the attacker was out of the blue paint by the time the puck was claimed by Oliver Wahlstrom and tucked into the net.

The result was a whole lot of confusion due to the differing rules from governing body to governing body. It was also a prime example for why we need to have much more uniformity to our Rule Books. Lastly, it was a great example of the need to employ the "McCauley Test" both on the legislative and enforcement sides.

That Team USA goal, logically, should have counted. The spirit of the crease rule is that exists to ensure a goaltender has a fair opportunity at a save. That was certainly the case here, and the fact that the puck entered the blue paint ahead of the first USA attacker and said attacker was then swarmed by defenders, out of the play (and the crease) by the time the goal was scored, is very much within the spirit of hockey.

Make the rules uniform, emphasize our officials' positioning and apply hockey sense and common sense. These are all things we need for our sport.


A Class of 2018 inductee to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games. Today, Stewart is the director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.

Visit Paul's official website, YaWannaGo.com
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